With the rise in the number of children becoming severely ill from COVID-19, Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem has opened Israel’s first COVID-19 Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

As of January 22, there were four very young patients in the COVID-19 Outbreak PICU. The youngest is just a couple of weeks old. Fortunately, that baby is in stable condition. The other small patients are seriously ill. While two of these children, ages six weeks and two, had serious chronic, underlying medical conditions, the nine-month-old was previously healthy before contracting the virus.

“We had to open an infant and children’s COVID-19 ICU for those who need respiration and intensive care and to staff it with a team of specialists in pediatric intensive care and anesthesia who could take care of these sick babies and children. Three of the children are on ventilators because they have serious lung problems.”

Head Nurse Sonya Sharabi shared the challenges parents of these sick children face. Some are ill themselves or have sick family members at home. “They are torn between caring for their other children and staying here in the unit 24/7 next to their babies.”

The PICU staff members, too, are torn by competing priorities, Sharabi related. They need to sustain their professionalism at the highest level, following every breath of every child, while still doing what they can to support the families. “Just now, I got off a video chat with the family of one of the babies,” she related. “All of his six siblings watched the baby and said how cute and sweet their brother is. It was heartbreaking.” She added, “Every child is a world.”

Emphasizing that “babies need a hug, a touch,” she said, “When there is no parent next to them, it is very difficult to imagine how they are coping. We all try to help with everything; of course, there are always staff members inside the unit for long hours to keep a close eye on the children.”

Sharabi explained, “Some of our nurses have been drafted to help in the adult outbreak units because of their intensive care and respiratory expertise. Those who have remained now must divide their efforts between the regular PICU and the COVID-19 PICU. They are doing sacred work.”